In memory of our old cat Shadow, here's a wacky story that is mostly true. (The not-so-true parts? The guys don't work that hard and are only lawn buffs when I say it's become a jungle.)
Shadow, the Hero Cat (In her broader days)
In summer I do most of my writing outdoors on the deck under a curtained canopy that provides shelter from rain and enough shade for me to see my laptop screen. Last summer while I worked, an additional opportunity arose. I became a War Correspondent. And I didn't even have to leave the deck to do the job.
Here's how it happened: You see, there's something about a string of mole hills laced around a yard that can set even the least intrepid of yard guys into a frenzy. I'm not talking about those strange males with green thumbs who spend entire summers weeding, seeding and trimming every blade of grass to the perfect height. I can't imagine how guys like that survive a mole attack. It's dangerous enough for my guys, and our lawn isn't exactly one a normal suburbanite would discuss in polite company.
Moles are not the innocuous tiny rodents digging around in the dirt they try to make you believe they are. They are vicious, loathsome, alien beings bent on the destruction of the American Way of Lawn. They are an affront to the masculinity of the American male. Therefore it is inherent in any American male that he must rise to the defense of home, hearth and backyard.
Nor is the struggle confined to male humans. The American house cat of either gender also feels honor-bound to join in the struggle to save the dandelion-dotted expanse of green. Or maybe it's that moles taste good. I'm not really sure. At any rate, the two males and two black cats of our household immediately united in the struggle against the common enemy.
I'm not really sure whether it was the human males or the black-furred Special Forces that took up the battle first, but the first sign of battle I glimpsed involved shovels leveling the mounds. By morning, the mounds were back.
Meanwhile, Jinx and Shadow took turns at the latest mound. Jinx dug and dug, turned around and came at the hole from a different angle. Eighteen-year-old Shadow, whose favorite daily routines consist of eating, sleeping, using the litter box and issuing various commands to be petted, let out or fed kitty treats, stood- or rather laid- guard whenever Jinx was not around. But the mounds multiplied, making a nearly complete circle in the yard.
Mole traps, suggested my son. I looked out and saw seven-year-old Jinx digging into the freshest hole like a dog after a bone, while old Shadow supervised from the shade of the redwood tree. And seeing Jinx going deep enough that half of her body was hidden from sight, I vetoes traps. They'd catch more cats than moles. Jinx is nothing if not exuberant in her pursuit of any critter that moves, and I could picture her poor little paw hideously mangled in the trap's ominous jaws.
Rocks, then, they decided. Soon they were hauling in gravel from the driveway and packing it into the holes, which they then flattened with their favorite weapons, shovels. It worked. The moles didn't re-appear in those holes. However, they did move on. More mounds. Closer to the house. My mind was starting to replay the horrors of gophers in Caddy Shack, and I could see those nasty creatures tunneling beneath the house and under-mining the foundation.
And Jinx kept digging, and Shadow kept supervising.
Since the rocks didn't stop the enemy, the guys turned to stronger measures. They'd flood them out. So the garden hose came into action, and the water ran until the neighbor's lawn downhill from us once again turned green even though it was mid-July, and my mind's eye envisioned our house inching downhill in a mudslide. Likely the moles were living it up beneath our very feet, basking beside their underground swimming pools. Only moles would do a thing like that.
Closer, closer, the tell-tale mounds came to the house, and the yard was beginning to look like a minefield. Nothing could stop their forward advance.
Someone said poison, and the guys took it to heart. No, said I, if the cats could dig up a trap, they could dig up poison. We must protect our allies. But what could we do? The moles were winning battle after battle. And the guys were talking backhoe. That would get rid of the moles, all right, but yard as we know it would cease to exist.
Then early one morning I was under my canopy typing away when I looked out to the battlefield through my computer glasses, which meant I didn't see all that well, and I saw Jinx going after a new hole with a new vengeance.
But squinting a bit harder (when I really could have just reached for the other glasses), I realized the cat at war was quite a bit fatter than Jinx. That was old Shadow digging, with all the energy and fury Jinx put into the endeavor. What was this? The feline couch potato in hot pursuit of the enemy? Never in all the years we've had her has she been a hunter, but the way she was shoveling the dirt, I would have sworn she was just about to bring home a mole for dinner.
My heart swelled with pride for the old girl. "Go, Shadow, go," I whispered, and sat up straighter to watch her work. "Go, girl. Save the yard from the backhoe. "
She dug, dug, dug. She came back up. She ran around the mound to the opposite side, and dove in again, sending dirt flying. Knowing her particular eating habits, I figured she'd expect me to roast it in the oven for her supper so it would be nice and tender for her old teeth.
Then she did the altogether too thinkable. She turned, backed onto the dirt and squatted.
Well, we all know Shadow was really simply indulging in one of her favorite daily activities. Don't we?
All I can say is, that was about a year ago and I haven't seen any new piles of dirt in the yard.